I first came to know this area when I happened to pass by an Advocate article sharing of a small coffee shop nestled on Scotland Avenue in North Baton Rouge. The shop was called Southern Grind and was founded by a local named Horatio Isadore. The area was historically poor and underdeveloped, so Mr. Isadore’s core focus was to bring economic development and life to his community through Southern Grind.
I was immediately drawn into this story of my city from an area I had never been in. How did I know nothing of the entire northern half of the city I grew up in? I wanted to explore the place myself, gain a firsthand experience. I drove to up Scotland Avenue and parked my car along the street, right up next to the coffee shop. I was uncomfortable being in a completely foreign area but my interest far overcame that insecurity.
When walking and driving around the area, I admired the beautiful wall murals that adorned the building. All of them had distinct themes and history that told me things about the community I was experiencing. Many were influenced by Christianity, including crosses and quotes from the Bible. Others tied back to the Civil War and Civil Rights era, one depicting the heroic Harriet Tubman against the darkness of the Ku Klux Klan. The murals were bright and beautiful; I immediately knew that I had to incorporate them into my project because of the messages they encapsulated and the significance they seemed to have to the community.
From my experiences watching and listening in the area, I learned that the place was much more than the economically underdeveloped group of buildings that it was perceived as. The people here were bright, hardworking, happy people, that most of all cared deeply for one another. The sense of community was strong, and people worked their jobs not only for the salary but to lift each other up.
I walked into the dim lighting of the coffee shop and immediately the loud sound of the cars racing down the road outside diminished as jazzy tunes came into focus. The walls were painted blue, one side decorated with portraits and the other holding a large bookshelf. Sitting on a stool was a mother cradling her child. I recognized Mr. Isadore from the Advocate article as he stood behind the counter, and went up to speak to him. After ordering a smoothie, I explained my project to him and inquired about the start of his business. He described his community as “good people that deserve something more.” Mr. Isadore started off his career with a coffee shop at nearby Southern University. However, when looking at his own street, he was disheartened to see the darkness and lack of activity it possessed. His new coffee shop was a light to the street; it not only brought economic growth to the area but a safe, controlled place that residents could utilize freely.
The coffee shop serves the whole community. It provides a setting with desks and wifi not only for students but for adults that have hectic lives and no places to work. Just in my single visit, I saw a mother working with her child on her hip. Furthermore, Southern Grind acted as a place to have discussions and lectures regarding political and societal issues. Adjacent to the menu was a schedule of events that would concern topics including the promotion of black business and discussions with local police about maintaining the peace. Through these gatherings, Mr. Isadore transformed the coffee shop into a place that would foster new thought and connections between people. It is easy to take spaces such as this for granted when you go to a school like Episcopal, but Southern Grind provides something that is truly valued in its community.
The second I opened the door I heard a practically unanimous “WHO ARE YOU?” followed by a chorus of laughter. The owner since 2006, Shawn Ruffin, chuckled, “We can’t do your hair here. This is a barber shop.” I laughed along and explained my project to them. Sitting in one of the waiting chairs, the sweetest pitbull came up and greeted me. After some time petting the dog, I approached the owner. Mr. Ruffin agreed to participate in an interview with me, and began telling me his story in relation to his business. He explained that he originally had wanted to be a cop but never had the chance and began his barbershop business “just to survive”. However, as time passed he realized what his business did for the community.
He said to me, “Really came from a dream, woke up cutting hedges, realized I can does this. That was crazy to me. I don’t even know how I ended up with clippers. I thank God though for even the opportunity to be in a community like this and serving people like this because I never thought I would be behind the chair, you know, never thought I would be behind the barber chair.” Cutting hair, having conversations, it has an effect on people’s spirits, making them feel confident in themselves and in each other.